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Top 10 cars: best gas mileage, lowest sticker price

By David Undercoffler

9:00 AM EDT, March 12, 2013

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With gas prices continuing a steady upward climb, you may be headed to the dealer in search of something less thirsty at the pump. But which cars' sticker price gives you the most bang for your buck?

We asked Edmunds.com to look at the vehicles with the lowest sticker price per fuel-economy rating.

The math was simple: divide the car's base price by its EPA rating for combined fuel economy. The result gives a look at how much each mile per gallon will cost you.

Photos: Top 10 cars with lowest cost per mpg

Topping the list is Ford's C-Max Energi. This plug-in hybrid is rated at 100 miles per gallon  combined and costs $32,950, before destination and any tax incentives or rebates. That yields a cost of $329.50 per mpg.

Not far behind is its direct competitor, the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid. With a combined fuel economy rating of 95 mpg and a sticker price of $32,000, its cost per mpg is $336.84.

In third place is the cheapest non-hybrid, the tiny Smart fortwo, at $346.94 per mpg. The cheapest non-hybrid car that can actually carry your family is the Nissan Versa, at $394 per 1mpg.

Conspicuously absent from Edmunds' list is anything with a diesel engine. Although the fuel efficiency of diesel vehicles often rivals that of hybrids, most in the U.S. market are made by European brands and positioned as a more premium vehicle with a higher price tag.

The list also lacks anything with a turbocharged engine, in part because the option adds costs that may offset fuel economy gains from the smaller engines used in turbo cars. (Also consider that Consumer Reports recently found that turbocharged vehicles with gasoline engines often don't live up to the EPA fuel economy ratings.)

Also noteworthy: none of the cars in the top 10 have a traditional automatic transmission. Everything on the list uses either a manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The Smart Fortwo comes close, but it uses an automated manual gearbox; its driver may not be using a clutch, but its transmission is.

Of course, the list comes with a couple of caveats. It includes only gas, diesel, or hybrid vehicles; electric vehicles have been omitted. If you do include them, the 2013 Nissan Leaf would be at the top of the list, with a cost of $245.32 per mpg (or mpge in this case). Honda's Fit EV would be No. 2, at $310.38 per mpg.

Here's the complete list of vehicles with the lowest cost per 1 mpg for 2013:

1. Ford C-Max Energi

Base price: $32,950

Fuel economy: 100 mpg

Cost per 1 mpg: $329.50

2. Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

Base price: $32,000

Fuel economy: 95 mpg

Cost per 1 mpg: $336.84

3. Smart Fortwo

Base price: $12,490

Fuel economy: 36 mpg

Cost per 1 mpg: $346.94

4. Toyota Prius c

Base price: $19,080

Fuel economy: 50 mpg

Cost per 1 mpg: $381.60

5. Nissan Versa

Base price: $13,790

Fuel economy: 35 mpg

Cost per 1 mpg: $394

6. Chevrolet Volt

Base price: $39,145

Fuel economy: 98 mpg

Cost per 1mpg: $399.44

7. Scion iQ

Base price: $15,495

Fuel economy: 37 mpg

Cost per 1 mpg: $418.78

8. Kia Rio

Base price: $13,600

Fuel economy: 32 mpg

Cost per 1 mpg: $425

9. Toyota Yaris

Base price: $14,370

Fuel economy: 33 mpg

Cost per one mpg: $435.45

10. Honda Insight

Base price: $18,600

Fuel economy: 42 mpg

Cost per 1 mpg: $442.86